By Rohinee Iyer
One marvels at the cricketing legacy of Sachin Tendulkar; of 24-years spent playing – dedicating – for his country as a sportsman par excellence, even as the closeness of his impending retirement makes one wish to stop the time-clocks for eternity. The emotions are quite difficult to contain, especially as the excitement to see him perform and to do well war with the knowledge that this would be the last time the cricketing world would get to see Tendulkar don the Test whites for India. And it is this knowledge that brings in the memories of the past for the mind’s eyes to see and behold.
Right from the time Tendulkar made his debut on the international cricketing circuit, it was obvious that he was earmarked for being more than a mere presence in the Indian cricketing realm. That feeling was reinforced in the fifth Test between India and Pakistan at Sialkot, where Tendulkar stood tall in cricketing stature despite blood gushing freely from his nose. In a battle between the bowler and the batsman, the latter had emerged a clear winner, even striking the very next ball for a four, as if to signify that all was well.
The incident occurred in 1989, a year in which perhaps many of the cricketer’s fans may not have even been born; yet, the significance of the event is so enormous that no Tendulkar fan, irrespective of his date of birth, can ignore it. The subsequent years, the start of the 90s, only brought in more laurels for the baby-faced cricketer. His looks flummoxed many an experienced cricketer who thought him to be an easy prey to their blows – both verbal and physical. The baby-faced warrior, of course, absorbed all of the blows, and gave back more than he received.
His first century – against England in 1990 – rammed home the news, especially to the opponents, that the future of Indian cricket was in the best of hands. That innings also brought an understanding to the Indian selectors and the otherwise highly critical Indian cricketing fans that the high bar of maturity and flair that was first witnessed in Tendulkar at the national first class level was only going to be raised higher on the international cricketing platform. The knock of 119 at Old Trafford was truly a match-saving one even as the rest of the Indian batting order wilted under the accuracy of the English bowlers. In truth, it spoke of what Tendulkar would eventually go on to do for Indian cricket – become its lynchpin in the most literal sense.
His inherent talent shone through yet again a couple of years later in 1992, when the 19-year old notched a century on the difficult batting track at WACA against Australia; a team that boasted of the likes of Reid, McDermott and Hughes amongst its bowling order. It was a piece of sublime batting, one that laid the foundation of a lifelong endearment on the part of the Aussie crowds towards him, alongside respectful acknowledgement from his merciless opponents.
The most unique thing about Tendulkar has been his ability to read not just players, but situations as well. It was this acumen that allowed him to maintain stability throughout the years and in all forms of the game.
Unlike the longer format of the game, Tendulkar’s start in ODIs was relatively mediocre. But his achievements over the course of the years ensured that he went on to pile on runs incomparable to anyone else. Time and again, the whole nation held its hopes high about India winning matches with Tendulkar at the crease. Time and again, the nation believed that this man would get the team through – if not with his batting, then with his bowling. The 1996 World Cup was testimony – a reinforcement – of what Tendulkar could do single-handedly, and what the loss of his wicket could do to impact the momentum of the team.
In 2011, the Indian cricket team dedicated its World Cup victory to Sachin Tendulkar with Virat Kohli’s words about carrying Sachin on his shoulders ringing in everyone’s ears. It was justified ovation, just as it was a justified statement from a cricketer towards his senior. The whole of that World Cup, Tendulkar played a part as one of the team, often taking the backseat even as his other team members went on about attacking opponents; a humongous difference to the 1996 World Cup, when he had to take on multiple roles single-handedly and get the job done for India.
But no matter what role Tendulkar played in the team, he did it for the team because he was a part of the team. He never saw himself as a separate person from the rest of the team composition. Always a team player, be it at the inter-school level or at the first class level, it’s this ability of Tendulkar’s that has made him what he is today. A veritable giant among cricketers, who was always able to modulate his game as the sport evolved, Sachin Tendulkar’s absence will indeed leave a huge gap amongst the cricketing ranks.